The most sacred rules in baseball, the ones that engender the severest consequences, are the unwritten ones. Those rules of engagement are clear on the matter of brush-back pitches: Any pitch thrown near the batter's head is a serious breach of honor. So when one of the most successful pitchers of our time, righthander Pedro Martinez, violated the code last Saturday in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, Bob Watson, baseball's disciplinary czar, was the least of his concerns. Martinez's stature inside the game, just like the stuff he had brought to the mound that day, was diminished. Worse, he had lit a fire under the New York Yankees.
Not even Martinez's Boston Red Sox teammates defended him after he whistled a fastball behind the right ear of Yankees outfielder Karim Garcia in the fourth inning. Later he made what was thought to be a threatening gesture—pointing to his right temple—during a shouting match with Yankees catcher Jorge Posada.
"I'm going to be egotistical here," Yankees special adviser and Hall of Fame outfielder Reggie Jackson said of Martinez after the game. "If he's going to be one of us, one of the Hall of Famers, you don't do that. Gibson, Palmer, Hunter, Seaver, Koufax, Clemens—and yes, Clemens is right there with them—they don't do that, pointing at your head. It's sad to see."
The Red Sox had handed Martinez a 2-0 lead, but he didn't have the ammunition to protect it and ended up the loser in the Yankees' 4-3 win. The Yankees took aggressive swings, including one by Hideki Matsui in the fourth that resulted in a ringing RBI double to break a 2-2 tie. Martinez's next pitch whizzed toward Garcia's helmet and hit him on the back of his left shoulder. "He was absolutely trying to hit me," Garcia said. "He's got good control, and all of a sudden he throws at my head."
The next day Martinez offered this alibi: "I was just trying to make sure I got a fastball up and in.... I just held on to the ball too long." As for his gesture to Posada, Martinez said he had objected to the language the Yankees' catcher had used and pointed to his head because "I told him in Spanish, 'I will remember what you said.' "
The Yankees, however, saw frustration and desperation in Martinez. "He was throwing 88 miles an hour, without life on the ball," lefthander Andy Pettitte said.
The idea of a hittable Martinez scares Boston more than the notion that he's a renegade. One Boston front-office source suggested after Game 3 that Martinez may have a small tear in his shoulder that "he should get fixed.... I think he knows his stuff isn't the same, and it scares him. But what he did today, it disappointed me. I can't rebuke what the Yankees said."